Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Wandering animals, and ethics vs feelings.

It's another rainy day with no great photos to share, and fortunately I've been thinking about ethics again. Before I get there though, we have a couple things going on around the homestead. First the turkey is missing this morning, and there's no exploded poof of feathers. I suspect she's going looking for a tom that will give her what she wants since I'm clearly not doing it for her. I hope she comes home soon, and we'll keep you updated. The second thing is, somehow in the weather changes the hutch with Dawn and her daughter ended up open. On the big up side, when I walked up and picked dawn's daughter up, she didn't run anywhere but back to the hutch and let me put her back in. The benefits of having well socialized rabbits. I guess being outside in the rain wasn't as much fun as she thought. Below the cut, let's get on to some thinking.
As you probably know, the Lady of the House and I think about ethics about all the time. We've thought about food out of the home, and whether ethics is a luxury. I'm going to assume that folks have read these posts for the purposes of my thoughts today.

Are we making ethical choices, or just trying to make ourselves feel better about killing?
I don't actually have the answers to this question, but it's something that has been kicking around in my head, and we've been discussing on car rides to and from the house. My instant thought of course is, obviously we're making ethical choices, that's what we're doing this for! But let's actually look at and think about a few things.

First things first, there are a couple of different primary neurological reactions to humans vs. animals. In the first humans are greater than animals, and human need supersedes animal needs. Indeed, animals are considered things by many. In the second humans are a type of animal, and animals deserve recognition and active focus of care. I'm not an expert on the neurology of these core instinctive views on animals, and may have miss-phrased these to an extent. 

Obviously the Lady of the House and I don't see animals, ours or otherwise as things. They are not objects., and we see humans as a type of animal, and recognize that animals deserve appropriate care. Temple Grandin does an excellent job of explaining why animals aren't things from a very objective point of view in a very dense piece you can read here. For me one of the most important lines of her work is,

"The key is, does the animal have sufficient nervous system complexity to experience pain and       fear and actually suffer? Simple reflexes are not reliable indications of suffering. . . .The degree of protection, and environmental and social enrichment an animal will require will be dependent on the level of complexity of its nervous system."

Ok, we've established that animals aren't things, and that they deserve protection whether or not you're wired to see them as worth protecting. So at the point where they are safe, reasonably protected from fear and inhumane killing, given sufficient stimulation to develop mentally and socially that from an ethical perspective is a basic necessity. Even from a practical perspective that's necessity because otherwise animals won't develop as quickly, or as well. The quality of the meat and pelt will be reduced, production will be reduced in number and quality. Meeting that quality of housing and care is less ethical than practical. Beyond that point is where we start asking the question of are we making ourselves feel better, or making ethical choices.

I think we are making ethical choices, not just making ourselves feel better. On the emotional side of things I feel that we are providing a better life for our animals, and that by giving them stimulation, and space, and comfort of other animals they are happier. That they are happy to see us tells me that we are doing a good thing. On a thinking side of things it's a little harder, but one of the prime examples just happened to come up this morning with Dawn's daughter getting out. She got out, and instead of being afraid and having to be trapped or run down to get her back into her hutch, she accepted my approach without fear, and was put back in her space. It isn't that she was afraid of being outside, she was enjoying it. It isn't that I had to run her down, she was comfortable and lacking fear of her home, or me. I think that means that our care standards, though well beyond what is strictly required for quality production, are good and ethical choices.

Why does that mean they aren't just to make ourselves feel better though? The short version is because it primarily benefits the animals, and the benefits to us are side effects. The other big part is, by making more of a connection with our livestock, by knowing them as individuals we don't feel better. We actually cause ourselves pain through care, and concerns, and the hard emotional blows of killing an animal we know and have chosen to care for. We are trading our comfort for theirs, and that I think makes our choices about ethics of their care, not a salve for our guilt for killing.

As always, I welcome comments, thoughts, and suggestions. Thinking on ethics never stops.


  1. I have no specific answers, but your concerns are genuine and heartfelt and, yes, ethical. My chickens are pets; I never consider using them as a food source except for their beautiful, tasty eggs. That was my choice and always will be. Your ideas here are balanced. We should care for our animals no matter what. I re-read your last paragraph here and drew the same conclusion!

    1. I'm always glad to hear folks come to the same conclusion. At some point I definitely should do a post on pet vs production, and how that's a hard line for us.

  2. The prospective I look at this from is that of honor and respect. Am I respecting the life of the animal, and am I honoring its death? The 'how' is up to the individual, but for me it comes down to this; Respect them by giving them a happy and health life, honor them death by not wasting its death.

    However I feel this, in a way, is paradoxical. If I know that the animal will die by my hand, then no matter how happy or comfortable I make them, they will still be slain. And, in doing so I have betrayed the respect and trust that both the animal and I have built over the cores of our relationship. Weather or not the animal can comprehend such things is unknown to me, but I think about it none the less.

    1. For me that comes down to the pet vs production dichotomy. With a pet I'm not going to kill them for meat, I'll only kill them to prevent or end suffering. With a production animal, the relationship is predicated on ending with being killed for meat. The relationship is entirely based on that, and being the best I can is based around reducing or eliminating suffering through their life, and minimizing fear at time of death.